THE CONQUEST OF INDIA, AND OF THE SPICE COUNTRIES, II

 

Alvarès Cabral—Discovery of Brazil—The coast of Africa—Arrival at Calicut, Cochin, Cananore—Joao da Nova—Gama's second expedition—The King of Cochin—The early life of Albuquerque—The taking of Goa—The siege and capture of Malacca—Second expedition against Ormuz—Ceylon—The Moluccas—Death of Albuquerque—Fate of the Portuguese empire of the Indies.

On the 9th of March, 1500, a fleet of thirteen vessels left Rastello, under the command of Pedro Alvarès Cabral; on board, as a volunteer, was Luiz de Camoens, who in his poem the "Lusiad," was to render illustrious the valour and adventurous spirit of his countrymen. But little is known of Cabral, and nothing of the reason which had gained him the command of this important expedition. Cabral belonged to one of the most illustrious families in Portugal, and his father, Fernando Cabral, lord of Zurara da Beira, was Alcalde mõr of Belmonte. Pedro Alvarès Cabral had married Isabel de Castro, first lady in waiting to the Infanta Dona Maria, daughter of John III. If it be asked whether Cabral had made himself famous by some important maritime discovery, we answer there is no reason to think so, for in that case the historians would have recorded it. But it is difficult to believe that he owed to court favour alone the command of an expedition in which such men as Bartholomew Diaz, Nicholas Coelho the companion of Gama, and Sancho de Thovar sailed under his orders. Why had not this mission been confided to Gama, who had been at home for six months, and whose knowledge of the countries to be visited and of the manners of their inhabitants, seemed to point him out as the fittest man for the service? Had he not yet recovered from the fatigues of his first voyage? Or had his grief for the loss of a brother who had died almost within sight of the coasts of Portugal so deeply affected him, that he desired to remain in retirement? May it not rather have been that King Emmanuel was jealous of the fame of Gama, and did not wish to give him the opportunity of increasing his renown? These are problems which perhaps history may be for ever unable to solve.

It is easy to believe in the realization of those things which we ardently desire. Emmanuel imagined that the Zamorin of Calicut would not object to the establishment of Portuguese shops and factories in his country, and Cabral, the bearer of presents of such magnificence as to obliterate the memory of the shabbiness of those offered by Gama, received orders to obtain from the Zamorin an interdict, forbidding any Moor to carry on trade in his capital. The new Capitam mõr was in the first place to visit Melinda, to offer rich presents to its king, and to restore to him the Moor who had come to Portugal with Gama. Sixteen friars were sent out on board the fleet, charged to carry the knowledge of the Gospel to the distant countries of Asia.

The fleet had sailed for thirteen days and had passed the Cape de Verd Islands, when it was discovered that one of the ships, under the command of Vasco d'Ataïde, was no longer in company. The rest of the ships lay to for some time to await her, but in vain, and the twelve vessels then continued their navigation upon the open sea, and not, as had been the manner hitherto, steering simply from cape to cape along the shores of Africa. Cabral hoped by this means to avoid the calms in the Gulf of Guinea, which had proved so great a cause of delay to the preceding expeditions. Perhaps even the Capitam mõr, who must, in common with the rest of his countrymen, have been acquainted with the discoveries of Christopher Columbus, may have had the secret hope, by keeping to the west, of arriving at some region unvisited by the great navigator.

The fact remains, whether it is to be accounted for by a storm or by some secret design, that the fleet was out of the right way for doubling the Cape of Good Hope when, on the 22nd of April, a high mountain was seen, and soon afterwards a long stretch of coast, which received the name of Vera Cruz, changed afterwards to that of Santa Cruz. This was Brazil, and the point where now stands Porto Seguro. On the 28th, after a skilful reconnaissance of the coasts had been made by Coelho, the Portuguese sailors landed upon the American shores, and became aware of a delicious mildness of temperature, with a luxuriance of vegetation greatly exceeding anything which they had seen on the coasts of Africa or of Malabar. The natives formed themselves in groups around the sailors, without showing the least sign of fear. They were almost naked, and bore upon the wrist a tame parroquet, after the fashion in which the gentlemen of Europe carry their hawks or their gerfalcons.

On Easter Sunday, the 26th of April, a solemn mass was celebrated on the shore in sight of the Indians, whose silence and attitude of respect excited the admiration of the Portuguese. On the 1st of May a large cross and a padrao were erected on the shore, and Cabral formally took possession of the country in the name of the King of Portugal. His first care after this formality was accomplished was to despatch Gaspard de Lemos to Lisbon, to announce the discovery of this rich and fertile country. Lemos took with him the narrative of the expedition written by Pedro Vaz de Caminha, and an important astronomical document, the work of Master Joao, in which was doubtless stated the exact situation of the new conquest. Before setting out for Asia, Cabral put on land two criminals, whom he ordered to ascertain the resources and riches of the country, as well as the manners and customs of the inhabitants. These wise and far-sighted measures speak much for Cabral's prudence and sagacity.